Review: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

 Move that Wii remote! More, move it more!

Console: Nintendo Switch.

In about two weeks or so, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD will launch on the Nintendo Switch. After The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess received HD remasters on the Nintendo Wii U people were expecting Skyward Sword to get the same treatment at some point. Well, that time has come!

Skyward Sword has, for a long time, been regarded as the worst 3D Zelda game. It made me very hesitant to pick up and play the game myself but when it, alongside the Zelda 25th orchestra soundtrack, came on my path for a bargain I ended up buying it regardless. Now that I've played and finished the game, I'm happy to report that this game isn't the frustrating garbage fire that the internet is trying to make you believe. It's very much a 3D Zelda game like you're used to though it can definitely be very frustrating at time.

Let's dive in.

High in the sky, far above the clouds, floats Skyloft where the Hylians have lived and explored for generations. After some shenanigans involving big bully Groose trying to sabotage him, Link manages to ace his Knight-in-training exam. Celebrating the occasion, Zelda takes Link for a flight during which an odd-looking tornado appears out of the blue and throws Zelda tumbling beneath the cloud. While recovering back on Skyloft, Link is led into the island's statue of Hylia to the Goddess Sword by Fi, the spirit of the sword who resides within it. After Link draws the sword, he’s told that Zelda is still alive in the lands beneath the clouds and that destiny has come calling for the both of them. With the goddess sword in hand and Fi to guide him, Link jumps below the clouds to find Zelda and face his destiny.

Flying through the sky with Groose right on Link´s tail.

In many ways, Skyward Sword is a perfectly formulaic 3D Zelda with some slight deviations that are overshadowed by the very motion-control heavy control scheme, which I´ll get to later. For now, let´s focus on the story.

The story of Skyward Sword is perfectly fine. It’s not any deeper than the stories of Ocarina of Time & Twilight Princess but it’s still good, enjoyable and engaging with some interesting added elements. Zelda isn’t a princess in this game. She’s the daughter of the headmaster of the Knight Academy and Link’s best friend since childhood. Link, and by extension the player, has an actual connection to the woman in this game that raises the stakes. A shame that the game barely capitalizes on this fact and Zelda’s involvement is rather limited.

The bully character Groose has a very interesting journey that, while nothing ground-breaking, is memorable nonetheless. I’m less impressed by Fi, the spirit within the sword and your guide through the game, and the villain Girahim. Fi´s essentially an emotionless A.I., a blank slate of a character whose most memorable moments were the dancing/music sequences because those were the moments where she wasn’t behaving like a statue. I like her design and the idea that there’s a spirit residing in the Master Sword, but that’s about it. Girahim is rather similar to Twilight Princess’s Zant but slightly better. Unlike him though, he’s deliciously over the top from the get-go. He has no depth to him though and doesn’t show up enough to, you guessed it, be very memorable.

The structure of the game is almost exactly as you´d expect from a Zelda game pre-Breath of the Wild. It has the ´collect three things, then collect 5-7 other things, then the finale’ which you get to by travelling across the world and complete dungeons. It works out well, is as much fun as it has always been, but there is a caveat. Skyward Sword only has 4 areas which results in quite a bit of revisiting. They shake things up in every revisit, open up new parts of the area, but that doesn’t change that the game has quite a lot of backtracking. If you rush through the game I can imagine this getting on your nerves but if you play through it leisurely I don’t think it will.

The opening screen already tells you a lot about how this came is setup in terms of how it will progress.

Speaking of the dungeons, they are once again quite good. In my Twilight Princess review, I mentioned that its dungeons were much more varied than previously and much more elaborate. The ones in Skyward Sword are of the same general quality. The bosses are a bit less memorable bar one standout but the dungeons themselves are shorter, more manageable. I particularly like the way they implement the use of Link’s inventory into the dungeon design. I might not really see the purpose of the Whip when you’ve also got two hook shots other than ‘shake the Wii remote’ but something like the Beetle is a godsend in versatility.

I think it’s about time to talk about Skyward Sword’s gameplay elements and controls. The elements of the game are the reason it’s the black sheep of the 3D Zelda family. The fear of the heavy-motion controls started all the way back during E3 2010 when the Skyward Sword presentation when awry and the motion controls flat out didn’t work. In the game, they work, but not as good as they are intended. Unlike Twilight Princess where the motion controls are nothing more than a glorified button press. Here, you need to slash your sword in a specific way to hurt certain enemies and progress.

The problem with the controls is simple: the sensitivity of the controls aren’t good enough. It’s easy enough to execute, let’s say, a sideways swipe over a horizontal one. When in combat, however, having to execute the different moves is much more difficult to accurately do due to a fight’s hectic nature. The game misreading your inputs here is common. I won’t lie, I became extremely frustrated with the controls misreading my inputs around 3-4 times during playing. However, over time, I got more and more used to it and it became less of a hassle. Plus: the gyro controls make the bow, the beetle and other items much easier and accurate to use.

To defeat the Deku Baba in front, you need a vertical sword slash. To defeat the one in the back, you need to perform a horizontal one.

Aside from the motion controls, other gameplay aspects can also be frustrating. Skyward Sword has a stamina meter and unlike Breath of the Wild’s, this one not well balanced. It runs out too soon, takes too long to refill and the ways to make the stamina meter less of a hassle are tedious at best. When there are stamina refills littered around what is essentially the game’s hub world, you know there’s something off. The limited inventory space is also something that I think will annoy people. You only start out with four inventory slots initially and have to buy/find more slots throughout the game. This does make proper inventory management a hassle, having to go back to the item storage lady to swap items in and out. Around the halfway point though, you should have enough inventory space to keep the essentials (shield, bottles) in your inventory 24/7.

The gameplay is where most of the game’s problems lie but to be fair, there it has some good stuff a well. Skyward Sword allows you to upgrade your items and strengthen your potions using the insects and collectables you find. It’s not that in-depth, but I still think it's implemented well. The upgrades are worth your while and, assuming you’re at least somewhat observant, you don’t have to out of your way to hunt them down.

The flying mechanic is also a success in my eyes. The controls aren’t too bad, flying high up in the sky is quite relaxing and there’s all kinds of goodies to find and weird places to see.

Let’s end this review on a high note: the graphics and the soundtrack. For a 3D Nintendo Wii game, Skyward Sword looks really nice. It goes for a mix between the realistic, Lords of the Rings inspired Twilight Princess and the cartoony, chibi-style Wind Waker and it works wonders. It’s a good mix of the two styles, the cell-shading covers up the shortcomings of the hardware when it comes to detailing and ended up being the basis for Breath of the Wild’s graphical style. The music is also very good. The quality of the beautifully orchestral soundtrack is very high and fits the tone and style of Skyward Sword.

Conclusion

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is a good game. It some very obvious flaws and yes, the motion controls don’t work as well as they should and can be very frustrating to deal with at times. Beneath that though, you’ll find a perfectly fine 3D Zelda game does a few new things here and there, but mostly stays within the established Zelda formula. If you’re on the market for such a Zelda game, Skyward Sword isn’t a bad one to pick up. If the motion controls seem too daunting for you, Skyward Sword HD seems like a good deal to me assuming nothing has gone awry during the remaster process.

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